What is now Buffalo Niagara International Airport was first created in 1926 when a group of aviation enthusiasts convinced City of Buffalo officials that an airport was an indispensable element for any city intent on industrial and commercial growth.
Two hundred acres of Cheektowaga farmland were purchased in 1925 to build the Buffalo Municipal Airport, 318 acres in 1926, and an additional 20 acres in 1929, for a total land area of 538 acres. Today's BNIA covers almost 1,000 acres.
Passenger and airmail service between Buffalo and Cleveland commenced in mid December 1927. Airmail service and eventually passenger travel proved popular and began to increase. One reason was Buffalo's location on the route from New York City to Cleveland, Chicago and other western cities.
Another reason for Buffalo's growth as an aviation center was the presence of the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. Curtiss had contracts with the Army and Navy to produce military aircraft in large numbers. With America's entry into World War I in 1917, Curtiss invested $4 million to build the largest airplane factory in the world.
By the mid-1930's, the city was being pressed to build a new airport administration building. Construction of which was finally started on May 11, 1938, and was completed on April 27, 1939. A new apron was completed a few months later.
At the close of World War II, the airport's airfield facilities were badly deteriorated due to heavy wartime use. Numerous airfield and roadway/parking improvements were made in the late 1940s/early 1950s.
The administration building had also reached saturation and a major expansion program for the passenger terminal completed in 1955. This expansion, which included the West Concourse, tripled the square footage of the terminal and gave the airport a total of 11 gates.
In 1956, the Niagara Frontier Port Authority, a public body created by the New York State legislature, acquired the airport from the City of Buffalo. It continued to operate the airport until it was assimilated into the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), created by the New York State Legislature in 1967. All subsequent work on the airport was carried out by the NFTA. In 1959, the name of the airport was changed to the Greater Buffalo International Airport.
During the 1960's, automobile traffic outgrew the old traffic circle at the front of the building and a new method of handling arriving and departing automobiles was needed. At the same time, the airlines were pressing for still more gates. In 1961, United Airlines was increasing its flights significantly and other airlines needed additional gates as well. The administration building had been extended as far as possible with the addition of piers or wings to the north, east, and west. There was no room to accommodate more gates.
In 1968, NFTA initiated development of a regional airport study to assess long-term airport needs in the region. As a result, the West Terminal was built, opening in 1971, as an interim passenger terminal to alleviate the overcrowding at the East Terminal until a new regional airport could be constructed. Air travel projections for the 1960s pointed toward the construction of a new regional airport, and studies were conducted to find a location for this new facility.
In 1991, an evaluation of the useful life of the existing East Terminal concluded that the facility could no longer be economically rehabilitated.
After an intensive analysis of potential terminal configurations, a single stand-alone terminal design was selected which required demolition of both the East and West Terminals. In September 1996, the NFTA board of commissioners changed the name of the airport to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BNIA) effective with the opening of the new passenger terminal.
The new 15-gate, $ 56 million terminal opened with great celebration and fanfare on November 3, 1997. Since its opening, the number of daily flights has increased from 94 to over 130, and passenger growth in the last two years has exceeded 10% annually. Passengers, vendors, and the airlines indicate an extraordinarily high satisfaction level with the new facility.
The lead member of the design team, the New York firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, considered two historical regional influences when they designed the new terminal: the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the importance of aviation and flight to the region. They envisioned a crystalline structure symbolizing flight - and that vision became a reality. Some 27,000 square feet of glass dominate the 350-foot-wide lobby with its 50-foot ceiling and arching walls. When looked at from the air, the terminal itself looks like a giant aircraft poised for flight.
Within the main Gateway concourse, a unique 13,000 square foot work of art has been created on the floor with multicolored terrazzo tiles depicting the history of the region from a geological and sociological perspective. Created by Oregon artist and sculptor Robert E. Calvo, the woven pattern in the center of the design serves as a metaphor for the region, which was created out of the influences of many divergent events.
In additional to the terminal, a 1,300-space short-term parking garage was built on site. The garage also houses six major car rental agencies servicing the airport. Longterm parking facilities accommodate over 6,000 vehicles, and shuttles run constantly for those who prefer to ride to the terminal.
Since its opening, the BNIA terminal has expanded both the east and west concourse facility. These expansions have increased the total number of gates from 15 to 25.
The Buffalo Niagara International Airport has truly become a symbol of the region's respect for its rich history and its optimism for the future.